The English alphabet, along with every other Western alphabet, originated from the Roman (Latin) alphabet. The Roman alphabet itself originated from the Etruscan alphabet, which originated from the Greek alphabet. The Greek alphabet is a modified version of the Phoenician alphabet. The Greeks formed their alphabet by adding vowels to the existing vowel-less Phoenician alphabet. With that kind of a history, it’s no surprise that our modern English alphabet is filled with oddities.
10 There Used To Be A 27th Letter
The ampersand (“&”), used today by the likes of Barnes & Noble and Dolce & Gabbana, was once the 27th letter of the alphabet. Its invention dates to the first century. Roman scribes, who wrote in cursive, joined together the e and tin the Latin word “et,” which meant “and.”
The character was introduced into the English alphabet in the 19th century. Although its pronunciation remained “and,” its name changed thanks to school pupils. The pupils, reciting their alphabet, ended with “XYZ and per seand“; per se means “by itself.” Just as “et” was slurred together to form the &character, “and per se and” was slurred together to form “ampersand.”
Aside being used as a replacement for “and” and joining names together, ampersand also still replaces et. For example, et cetera (“etc”) can also be written as “&c.”
9 Why ‘U’ Always Follows ‘Q’
Can you think of an English word with a letter q not followed by a letter u? While English language contains some words like that—qibla, niqab, qigong,qawwali—they all derive directly from other languages. The only true English exception to the rule is “QWERTY,” and it is debatable whether that’s even a word at all.
Q is always followed by a u because we always use q to denote the sound/kw/. The /kw/ sound is a diagraph, which means that two letters come together to form a single speech sound.
Before the Normans invaded England in 1066, there was no letter q in the English language. Words like “queen” and “quick” were spelled “cwin” and “cwic” respectively. It was the French-speaking Normans who began the practice of using qu to represent the /kw/ sound. The Normans themselves had copied the use of “qu” from Latin, which used it for the /k/ sound if it appeared before w. If it did not appear before w, they used c instead.
8 Why ‘W’ Is Called ‘Double-U’
W is the only letter in the alphabet with a polysyllabic name. It is also the only letter whose name in no way tells how it is phonetically used. W is called “double-u” because that is how it used to be written—”uu.”
Originally, u and v represented the same sound. U was used in the middle of a word, while v was used in the beginning. So “upon” was written as “vpon,” and “save” was written as “saue.” When Latin was used in Old English early in the seventh century, it became imperative that a character had to be created for the w sound.
Two u‘s (“uu”) were adopted to form the /uu/ sound. It was called “double-u.”
In the eighth century, “uu” was removed from the alphabet and was replaced by another character called the wynn (“ƿ”). W was reintroduced in the 11th century after the Normans conquered England. The Normans joined the twou‘s together and made the bottom sharper to form the w we know today. The look of the character changed, but the name did not.
Even with its reintroduction, w took time to become a common letter. Early printers used two v‘s (“vv”).